Investor sold on ag opportunities

When it comes to agriculture, PIC Investment Group is not exactly a household name.

But the private equity and venture capital firm’s reputation in the agriculture and agri-food sectors is growing, thanks in part to a high-profile investment at Vanscoy, Sask., not far from Saskatoon.

PIC holds a 40 percent equity stake in Verdient Foods, the company that recently opened a new pea processing facility at Vanscoy.

Verdient is the latest addition to PIC’s agriculture portfolio, which also includes minority interests in Prairie Plant Systems and Mustard Products & Technologies (MPT).

Prairie Plant Systems is a Sask-atoon company that produces cannabis and cannabis-based pharmaceuticals in biosecure production facilities.

MPT, also based in Saskatoon, converts mustard seed into plant-based fertilizers and bio-pesticides.

PIC also has investments in chemical, transportation, and industrial real estate ventures.

PIC president Greg Yuel says Verdient Foods was an appealing investment opportunity because the company is forward-looking and committed to the principle of sustainable food production.

Yuel said PIC learned about Verdient Foods through other business dealings with the Cameron family.

Another company owned by PIC Investment Corp — Frontline Industrial Solutions, an engineering and project management consulting company — began working with the Camerons about two years ago.

“We established a rapport … we got to know each other and … in April of this past year, they invited us to be investors with them,” Yuel said.

Initially, the Camerons hadn’t been seeking a local investor, but over time, they determined that a Saskatchewan-based partner with knowledge of the industry would be beneficial to Verdient’s success, he said.

The Verdient facility will produce plant proteins and plant-based food products that reduce reliance on beef and other meat products.

Verdient’s decision to open a plant in Saskatchewan builds upon the work of other organizations and people that spent decades promoting field peas and other pulses as profitable, nitrogen-fixing crops that contribute to more sustainable rotations while reducing dependence on commercial fertilizers.

“For the past couple of years, we have been looking for what I would call an impact investment — an investment that has a material impact on the future …” said Yuel.

Not only does Verdient have the potential to evolve into a profitable business, it also has the potential to change the way humans eat and produce food, he added.

On a global scale, “when you think about seven billion people turning into 11 billion people and so many of them in Third World … wanting to eat the way we eat, quite frankly, there won’t be enough beef to feed everybody.

“We’re going to have to feed the world in a different way.”

Verdient has yet to produce its first products, but it is already lining up customers who see a bright future in foods that contain plant protein.

Verdient’s location — in the heart of Saskatchewan farming country — ensures access to raw product.

Concentrated protein products produced at the plant will be shipped across Canada and throughout the world.

Yuel said the global appetite for plant protein shows no signs of slowing.

Markets are particularly strong in India and other parts of Asia, where consumer tastes are evolving and religious or cultural beliefs prohibit meat consumption.

“I’ve been to India. I’ve been to McDonald’s in New Delhi and I’ve had a McDonald’s hamburger” made from vegetable protein, said Yuel.

“It was not that bad. It tasted pretty darn close (to beef) …. They want that and they’re are not going to get it from beef anyway.”

Yuel described PIC’s agricultural investments as long-term, multigenerational businesses that are positioned to take advantage of future trends.

“We’re not trying to get rich quick, we’re just trying to get rich,” he said.

The company’s strength in identifying sound agricultural investments rests in the knowledge and experience of its managers, Yuel added.

PIC’s ag portfolio is headed by Laurie Dmytryshyn who has close to 30 years of experience as a manager and lender with Agriculture Canada, Saskatchewan Agriculture and most recently, Farm Credit Canada.

FCC provided debt financing for the PIC’s investment in Verdient Foods.

Yuel said PIC will continue to look at other opportunities in agriculture.

The company is interested projects that plug into the Prairies’ productive potential and add value to the crops that are grown here.

“We’re very excited about the ag sector, specifically in Saskatchewan, and we’re very excited by the prospects of our land values, which I think are still quite low,” Yuel said.

Saskatchewan offers rich, productive farmland, untapped irrigation potential, relatively minor production risks related to global warming and political and economic stability, he added.

“It’s the safest place in the world to do agriculture… .”

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